US Secretary of State John Kerry has taken off the gloves and really ripped into the Israeli government and Israelis for not seeming to be serious about peace.
US Secretary of State John Kerry launched an unusually pointed public attack on Israeli policies in the West Bank Thursday, calling settlements “illegitimate” and warning that if current peace talks fail, Israel could face a third intifada and growing international isolation. Kerry made the comments during a joint interview with Israel’s Channel 2 and the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation.
“The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos,” Kerry said. “I mean, does Israel want a third intifada?” he asked.
“If we do not resolve the issues between Palestinians and Israelis, if we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel, there will be an increasing campaign of delegitimization of Israel that’s been taking place on an international basis,” he warned.
Turning to settlements and Israel’s presence in the West Bank, Kerry on Thursday denied rumors that there was an understanding that Israel would announce new settlement construction in exchange for releasing long-serving prisoners: ”That is not the agreement. The agreement, specifically, was that there would be a release of the pre-Oslo prisoners — 104 [of them] — who’ve been in prison now for many many years, who would be released in exchange for the PA not proceeding to the UN during that period of time.
“Now, the Palestinian leadership made it absolutely clear: they believe the settlements are illegal. They object to the settlements, and they are in no way condoning the settlements, but they knew that Israel would make some announcements. They knew it. But they don’t agree with it. And they don’t support it. They disagreed with it. In fact, they said, ‘We don’t agree. We do not think you should be doing settlements.’
“We, the United States, say the same thing,” Kerry continued. “We do not believe the settlements are legitimate. We think they’re illegitimate. And we believe that the entire peace process would in fact be easier if these settlements were not taking place. Now that’s our position… But we knew that there was not going to be a freeze. We didn’t negotiate a freeze.” Still, he said, Netanyahu had promised no settlement building that would change the “peace map” — presumably meaning no major expansion of settlements outside the major settlement blocs.
Kerry argued that recent Israeli settlement plans show a lack of seriousness about the peace process.
“Let me ask you something. How, if you say you’re working for peace and you want peace, and a Palestine that is a whole Palestine that belongs to the people who live there, how can you say we’re planning to build in a place that will eventually be Palestine? So it sends a message that perhaps you’re not really serious. If you announce planning, I believe it is disruptive to the process. But, the good side of it is, during the time we are negotiating, the planning will not translate into building and construction. And the prime minister has said he will not affect the peace map with the construction that takes place.”
“If we do not resolve the question of settlements,” he added, “and the question of who lives where and how and what rights they have; if we don’t end the presence of Israeli soldiers perpetually within the West Bank, then there will be an increasing feeling that if we cannot get peace with a leadership that is committed to non-violence, you may wind up with leadership that is committed to violence.”
In response to a question from Channel 2?s Udi Segal about the message Abbas sends to Israelis when he calls terrorists, released from pre-Oslo era prison convictions for murder as part of the parameters for the new peace talks, “heroes,” Kerry admitted, “It’s very difficult. Look, I have no illusions. I know that the vast majority of people in Israel are opposed [to these releases]. I understand that. Prime Minister Netanyahu understands that. And it is a sign of his seriousness that he was willing to make this decision.
“I know there’s cynicism. I know so many people don’t believe anything I just said… And I know there are people who have grown used to this,” Kerry said, referring to the current relatively peaceful stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian relations. And particularly in Israel. Israel says, ‘Oh we feel safe today. We have the wall, we’re not in a day-to-day conflict, we’re doing pretty well economically.’
“Well, I’ve got news for you,” he said, referring to the Israeli public. “Today’s status quo will not be tomorrow’s or next year’s. Because if we don’t resolve this issue, the Arab world, the Palestinians, neighbors, others, are going to begin again to push in a different way.”
Now if I imagine for a second that I am a palestinian listening to this, my key takeaways from Kerry’s words are:
- The settlements are the true obstacle to peace
- He’s ok with our “resistance” (aka terrorism) since he thinks it is an understandable response to the injustices we are suffering
- He’s ok with our characterization of the released prisoners (aka terrorists) as “heroes”, he just acknowledges Israelis have a hard time with this
- He thinks Israelis – not us – are not serious about peace
John Kerry might be tasked with bringing peace to the Middle East but I argue with his misguided words, he’s only setting it back further, sending the message to the palestinians that violence and terrorism pays.